Jackie Deshannon – What the World Needs Now . . . Jackie DeShannon: The Definitive Collection

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

It’s a goddamn travesty that Jackie DeShannon is not an icon, role model, and superstar. By the time her family moved to Aurora and then Batavia, Illinois, young Sharon Lee Myers had already been singing on the radio and had hosted her own radio show. She left high school early and began her career in earnest (and under various stage names), eventually catching the attention of Eddie Cochran, who introduced her to Sharon Sheely, with whom Myers began a songwriting partnership. She signed to Liberty and recorded a bunch of songs, with not much success. Still, she opened for the Beatles in 1964. Much more rewarding was her songwriting career. She wrote hits for Brenda Lee and Marianne Faithful, her songs were recorded by the Byrds and the Searchers, and she composed with Jimmy Page and Randy Newman. She also co-wrote “Bette Davis Eyes,” just one of the roughly 600 songs she wrote in her career.

What I Think of This Album

It should go without saying that The Definitive Collection is not definitive, as it is missing, at a minimum, DeShannon’s “Bette Davis Eyes.” In fact, this collection is limited in scope to the songs DeShannon recorded for Liberty, though the track listing is ample at 28 songs, many of them previously unreleased.

The generous liner notes manage to leave out critical information, such as who played on the tracks (a who’s who ranging from the Byrds to Jimmy Page to Dr. John to Barry White), though some of this is explained in the narrative even as it is missing from the credits, and I wish the track selection was more heavily skewed towards DeShannon’s own songs instead of her versions of others’ material. Its easy to ignore these shortcomings, though, because it’s an eye-opening collection.

What is most striking is the wide range of styles DeShannon worked in. She did girl-group type stuff, was a folk-rock pioneer, trafficked in the singer/songwriter genre, excelled at blue-eyed soul, and interpreted Hal David and Burt Bachrach material with ease. What follows is the appreciation of her own songwriting talents, which again, really should have been the focus of the album. Finally, there comes the realization that DeShannon was a woman ahead of her time, doing things that unfortunately women were not permitted or encouraged to do in the ‘60s.

Of the 28 tracks, 17 are DeShannon compositions (in whole or in part), leaving 11 interpretive songs. My favorite original – which I admit I already owned, via the excellent One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found box set – is “Should I Cry,” a witty and affecting song of heartbreak with a killer vocal. Also, the demo version of “Splendor In the Grass” (later covered by the Ladybug Transistor) has a superb melody and features the Byrds as the backing band (also on vocals). While Irma Thomas’s version of “Breakaway” is better known, DeShannon’s original is not to be missed. Incidentally, Thomas’s version was a B-side, was spelled “Break-A-Way,” and is also on that Girl Group Sounds box set.

DeShannon’s biggest original hit for herself was 1969’s “Put a Little Love In Your Heart,” which has a Dusty In Memphis feel and is undeniably good. “When You Walk In the Room” was understandably a hit for the Searchers and decades later, for Pam Tillis; Springsteen has covered this live. “Dream Boy” has a surprisingly tough guitar sound, courtesy of Jimmy Page. A more noteworthy Page collaboration is “Don’t Turn Your Back On Me,” also with an intriguing guitar part, straight up rock drums, and a fantastic melody, with DeShannon laying down a perfect vocal. A demo version of “It Shines On You Too” is beautiful and beguiling.

Marianne Faithful had a hit with “Come and Stay With Me,” though I find little about this tune I care for. Beyond this, tracks like “I Remember the Boy” (also with Page on guitar), “You Won’t Forget Me,” “Love Will Find a Way,” and “Hellos and Goodbyes” are waiting to be discovered. As for songs she interpreted, her version of “Needles & Pins” (a Jack Nitzsche/ Sonny Bono composition, though DeShannon claims she was also involved) should’ve been a bigger hit for her (as it was for the Searchers a year later). The Ramones covered this, too.

She delivers more girl group goodness with “Heaven Is Being With You” (a Gerry Goffin/Carole King/Cynthia Weil song). Her biggest hit ever was “What the World Needs Now,” though I frankly don’t care for Bachrach/David songs. That said, “Lifetime of Loneliness” is pretty good, but it’s also fairly atypical of the stuff those two created. “For Granted” is sweeping and dramatic – maybe a little overproduced with those backing vocals – but still pretty good.

Rock trivia nerds will love that DeShannon recorded a Warren Zevon song – “500 Miles From Yesterday” – in 1966, long before he rose to popularity. Honestly, the song is just okay. Those same students of history may already know that DeShannon’s recording of “The Weight” (claimed by Robbie Robertson, but disputed by Levon Helm) was the first single release of that song. Dr. John plays the piano on this excellent track, and Barry White contributes backing vocals. Some of the pop stuff here could’ve been cut, as it drags things down, but regardless, this is a fantastic collection.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Splendor In the Grass” is a great fucking song.

Release Date

January, 1994

The Cover Art

This is adapted from the cover of 1967’s For You, with a different banner up top. I like the Imperial/Liberty Records box in the upper left.

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